Come July 1, it's going to get a bit more expensive to drive the Indiana Toll Road for cash-paying motorists.
The cost of a through-trip -- a ride along the entire 157-mile roadway -- will jump from $8.80 to perhaps $9.00 or $9.10 for those in passenger cars, according to guidelines governing the change. The precise hike, though, won't be made public until around May 1, or maybe sooner.
And here on out, you'll face rate hikes each year, as per the lease agreement between the state of Indiana and the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., the private manager of the toll road since 2006.
It won't be so bad for those in passenger cars who use I-Zoom transponders, paying tolls electronically. You currently pay just $4.65 to ride the length of the toll road -- the state of Indiana subsidizes the lower rate -- and that will stay put until July 1, 2016. That's when the ITRCC lease first allows for a hike in that particular rate.
The cash toll road rate for passenger cars spiked from $4.65 to $8 on April 1, 2008, as per a 2006 rule change approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Finance Authority. It rose again on July 1, 2010, to $8.80.
Now there will be "annual standardized formulaic toll adjustments set to mimic current economic conditions," ITRCC spokeswoman Amber Kettring said in an email. "These schedules protect Indiana Toll Road users from massive one-time toll increases."
She notes that the cost to drive the Indiana Toll Road -- 5.6 cents per mile now if you pay cash and 3 cents for those with transponders -- is still much lower than in other states. It's 6.4 cents per mile on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, 8.6 cents on the Illinois Tollway and 13.3 cents on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The formula: According to the 2006 lease that turned toll road management over to the ITRCC, the looming July 1 increase for cash customers and the hikes each July 1 thereafter will total the larger of:
* 2 percent;
* The change in the previous calendar year's nominal U.S. gross domestic product; or
* The change in the previous calendar year's U.S. consumer price index for all urban consumers, U.S. city average, non-seasonally adjusted.
That formula will also apply to the permissable annual rate changes starting in 2016 for those who pay electronically.
For the looming July 1 increase, also applicable to the separate rate structure for large trucks, the hike will likely be 2 percent, or more. The 2010 CPI totaled 1.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while estimated real gross domestic product growth in 2010 measured 2.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Using the 2 percent figure as the base increase, the current $8.80 toll for passenger cars would increase to $8.98. But since the lease calls for rounding to the nearest 10 cents, the final figure would be bumped to $9.
The nominal GDP figure hasn't yet been released, but if the estimated 2.9 percent real GDP increase is used as a base, the $8.80 toll increases to $9.06. Rounding to the nearest 10 cents brings that to $9.10.
The subsidy: Incidentally, the lower $4.65 electronic toll rate -- applicable just to passenger cars with transponders, not large trucks -- comes courtesy of the state of Indiana, at least for now.
In the lease with ITRCC, the state is paying ITRCC the difference between the reduced rates electronic toll road users actually pay and the higher cash rates they'd otherwise face, according to INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield. That's to continue until June 30, 2016, when the subsidy stops and the electronic tolling rate faces its first increase.
Wingfield said a total of $45.92 million has thus far been paid out by the Indiana Finance Authority to cover the difference, all of it from the $3.8 billion in proceeds garnered by the state in the lease deal with ITRCC.
Kettring said the intent of the subsidy is to promote electronic tolling, now used by 66 to 70 percent of Class 2 motorists, which includes passenger cars. The lease agreement itself speaks of the subsidy as a "benefit" for motorists.
Factoring for inflation: Looking at toll road rates over the years, the current fees, even for cash-paying customers, aren't so bad:
* In 1956, when the toll road was finished, it cost $1.95 for a full-length trip. Adjust that figure into 2011 dollars with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, though, and it becomes $15.87.
* In 1975 it cost $3.50 to ride the toll road. Adjusted for inflation, that becomes $14.40 in 2011 terms.
* The 1985 figure, $4.65, starts to approach the current fee, in real terms. Adjusted to 2011 dollars, that totals $9.56.